ITUC OnLine – April 28, 2009

World’s Trade Unions Demand Action to End Workplace Carnage

Brussels, 28 April 2008 (ITUC OnLine): More than 14 million people are expected to take part in some 10,000 activities across the world today, the International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers. Over 2.2 million workers die each year from work accidents and disease, and some 160 million more are injured or become ill.

According to the ILO, there is a clear trend in recent years toward increasing fatalities and injuries at work. More than 337 million accidents causing more than 4 days of absence from work were reported for the year 2003 alone, the most recent year for which global statistics are available. In the same year, 2.31 million people lost their lives to workplace diseases and the 358,000 fatal accidents which took place. The recorded number of deaths caused by hazardous substances almost doubled in comparison with 2001.

“Laws protecting workers’ health and safety in many countries are weak or poorly enforced. Negligence by employers who fail to ensure their workplaces are safe and healthy is the main cause of the appalling toll of death and disease, and we fear that the global economic crisis will only make matters worse, as employers seek to cut costs even further.

Prevention is the only answer, and that requires employers to invest in safe and sustainable work, and proper legislation and enforcement by governments. Trade union organisation provides a first line of protection for workers, and violation of these rights means more deaths and injuries,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

Trade union organisations, governments, employers, and many other institutions such as the ILO as well as a broad spectrum of professional and non-governmental organisations and even some employers are organising activities in countries around the world. The number and range of activities will exceed 2008 – itself a record – when hundreds of thousands of unions members and campaigners in over 120 countries were involved.

Many of the activities such as workshops, debates, rallies will focus on occupational accidents, cancers, chemicals and specific contaminants like asbestos and cadmium, along with a wide-range of unhealthy working conditions, from damaging noise levels to musculoskeletal disorders, the effects of stress and concerns about nanotechnology.

Visit the joint ITUC/Global Unions/Hazards 28 April webpage.

Africa-EU Strategy – What Happened to Decent Work?

Brussels, 28 April 2008 (ITUC OnLine): As the European Union-Africa Ministerial “Troika” meets today in Luxembourg, the ITUC and the European TUC have called again for the inclusion of labour issues in the discussions on the Africa-EU Strategy.

“The appeal made by the trade unions at the Summit in Lisbon in 2007 has not been taken into account by those negotiating the strategy. Ignoring the message from the union movement would be all the more unacceptable in the current crisis. The promotion and protection of decent work is clearly one of the key responses to this crisis,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

In February last year, the ITUC, ITUC-Africa and the ETUC adopted a common trade union position on the EU-Africa strategy, arising from an EU-Africa Trade Union Summit in Lisbon in October 2007. This position, including a call for trade union participation in the EU-Africa process itself, was then put forward to the meeting of heads of state and government which also took place in Lisbon.

Trade Union Statement UE – Africa Summit, April 2009.

Trade Union Statement UE – Africa, October 2007.

ITUC Welcomes World Bank’s suspension of “Doing Business” Labour Indicator

Brussels, 28 April 2009 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC welcomed the decision of the World Bank to instruct its staff to stop using the “Employing Workers Indicator” (EWI) of its highest-circulation publication, “Doing Business”. The ITUC has long criticized the EWI because it gives the best ratings to countries with the lowest level of workers’ protection and has been used by the World Bank and IMF to pressure developing countries to undertake labour market deregulation.

“In the context of the current global economic crisis, where 50 million more workers could become unemployed this year and pressures to decrease wages and workers’ living standards are intensifying every day,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, “it is significant that an important development institution like the World Bank is turning the page on a one-sided deregulatory view on labour issues and proposing to adopt a more balanced approach where adequate regulation, improved social protection and respect for workers’ rights will be given a higher profile.”

In a note on revisions to “Doing Business” made public today, World Bank management informed its staff that “the EWI does not represent World Bank policy and should not be used as a basis for policy advice or in any country program documents that outline or evaluate the development strategy or assistance program for a recipient country”. The Bank will furthermore remove the EWI from its Country Policy and Institutional Assessments (CPIA), which the Bank uses to establish countries’ overall level of eligibility for loans and grants allocated by the Bank’s concessionary lending arm, the IDA.

Ryder offered the Bank the ITUC’s full cooperation in developing an alternative approach that promotes the creation of decent work. He emphasized that the World Bank Group has already made considerable strides concerning respect for the ILO’s core labour standards (CLS), starting with the requirement three years ago by the IFC, the Bank’s private-sector lending arm, that all of its projects conform to the CLS. More recently, the World Bank incorporated a CLS requirement into its master procurement documents and led a process to include CLS clauses in the harmonized standard bidding documents used by all multilateral development banks.

The ITUC pointed out that the IMF took a similar step concerning the “Doing Business” labour indicator in August 2008, when IMF management instructed staff that mission teams should refrain from using the EWI in any of the Fund’s public documents because of various methodological problems associated with the index.

The ITUC initially wrote the World Bank about its concerns with the “Doing Business” labour indicator in October 2003, a few weeks after the Bank published the first edition of the report, and the union body subsequently raised the matter in detailed analyses where it called attention to the indicator’s use in pressuring numerous developing-country governments to weaken labour regulations.

The ILO and some governments and legislative bodies also expressed criticism of the “Doing Business” labour indicator in the past three years. The Financial Services Committee of the US House of Representatives, chaired by Rep. Barney Frank, held hearings on the topic in October 2007 at which the ITUC testified. During the hearings Frank said: “Excessive inequality can become politically dysfunctional, and to the extent that it begins to depress consumption, depress savings rates, it can become economically dysfunctional. … It troubles me to see the ‘Doing Business’ report of the World Bank reinforcing those tendencies.”

In its note on the “Doing Business” labour indicator issued today, the World Bank states that it proposes to give appropriate weight to “issues as diverse as political stability, social safety nets to shield vulnerable parts of society from intolerable levels of risk and protection of rights for workers and households as well as for firms”.

“The Bank’s decision to pay greater attention to issues such as these is consistent with the commitment of G20 leaders at their London summit to ‘build a fair and friendly labour market for both women and men’,” said Ryder. “We invite the Bank to work closely with the ILO on this theme,” he added, noting that the G20 statement called upon the ILO to assess appropriate employment and labour market policies.

The actions taken by the World Bank regarding the Employing Workers Indicator of the ”Doing Business” report are described in a note posted on the Bank’s “Doing Business” web site.

Durban II: The ITUC Reaffirms its Commitment to Eradicating All Forms of Discrimination

Brussels, 28 April 2009 (ITUC OnLine): Despite the many incidents and uncertainties, the conference to review the progress made since the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa (2001) did finally take place and was able to complete its programme as planned.

The international trade union movement was well represented, having successfully rallied a good number of its national and sectoral organisations. The ITUC was in no doubt as to the importance of attending the Conference, to reaffirm its commitment and determination to eradicate all forms of discrimination and to show solidarity with all those affected by it. Far from being abstract entities, the victims of this scourge are human beings, working men and women whose rights are being flouted.

Given the context surrounding the conference and the constant threat that it might fail, the international trade union movement considers it all the more positive that the conference did go ahead and, above all, that a text was adopted. The international trade union movement supported the text, but nonetheless expressed regret that certain groups vulnerable to racism, xenophobia and discrimination were excluded from the concerns reflected in the document, including those discriminated against based on their caste, their sexual orientation or their gender.

We also expressed regret that decent work and the Millennium Development Goals were not seen as key instruments in ensuring the eradication of racism and xenophobia.

The trade unionists attending the conference committed to keeping up their surveillance of the governments that have not signed, ratified or applied international mechanisms such as the international labour standards of the ILO, the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of disabled people or the rights of migrant workers.

The final document of the DPPA and the Durban Review Conference can be used by trade union organisations to press their governments to guarantee decent work, good working conditions and decent pay for all and to bring an end to discrimination in the workplace, which fuels racial discrimination. These texts constitute tools that can be used to press governments to assume their responsibilities in the fight against the worst of ideologies, which seeks to advance the view that we are not all equal. The international trade union movement pledged that it would keep up the fight for a world that reflects the best of humanity and, above all, to fight the political instrumentalisation of human rights.